Jun 3, 2013

Cruising: Homophobic Classic

February 1980: My sophomore year at Augustana College.  I've seen many movies with gay subtexts, but only three with gay characters: Rocky Horror, with the pansexual Doctor Frank-N-Furter; Tommy, with creepy pedophile Uncle Ernie; and Blazing Saddles, with a cadre of limp-wristed chorus boys.  And none of those featured The Gay Community, gay people living and working together, their homes, their hangouts.

Cruising would.  The tv promo said only that Al Pacino would play a cop who "disappears into the darkness," but the theatrical trailer showed him putting on makeup, plus men dancing together, and a brief flash of the word "homosexual" (along with "violence," "murder," "fear," and "sex").  The final shot showed one man putting his hand atop another man's.  I guess we were supposed to find the image disquieting, but I found it erotic.

The movie wasn't playing in Rock Island, so one cold Saturday my boyfriend Fred and I drove an hour west to the college town of Iowa City to see our first gay movie, ever.

The plot: in a gay bar, Loren Lukas cruises a mysterious stranger.  After discussing what turned them gay, they go home together, where the stranger politely asks Loren to lie still while he stabs him to death.  And the milquetoast complies!

More bar pickups, more murders. There's a gay serial killer out there "targeting his own."  Police detective Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is asked to go undercover and catch him.  So he moves into a sleazy apartment in the bad part of town, puts on a leather vest, applies makeup, and goes cruising.

He befriends his next door neighbor, Ted (Don Scardino), but runs afoul of Ted's effeminate, histrionic dancer-boyfriend (James Remar, right; photo is from The Wanderers).

Occasionally Steve sees his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen), but he becomes less and less interested in her as he is infected by the gay lifestyle.

Eventually he finds the man he thinks is the killer, a disgruntled gay music student.  But after they take him into custody, Ted's body is found, so they arrest Gregory.  Is it just one of the usual gay lovers' quarrel-homicides, or is Gregory the real serial killer?  Since all gay men are violent, it's hard to tell.

Steve moves back in with his girlfriend.  But it's too late, he's turned gay.  He puts on his makeup and leather and heads out to the bars.  Maybe he's a killer now, too.

We walked out of the theater amid the crowd of University of Iowa students into a clear, bitter-cold night, got back into our car, and drove home.  Where to start with the homophobia?

1. All gay men live in horrible neighborhoods.
2. They all have artistic or creative jobs: playwright, dancer, musician.
3. But they're not very competent; they can only afford tacky, run-down apartments.
4. In spite of their leather jackets and muscles, they're all effeminate queens.
5. They have no culture, no organization, no nothing except bars.
6. They're obsessed with what "turned" them gay, desperate for a cure.
7. They're shallow, histrionic, and violent, with a strong death wish.
8. You can get infected with gay.

I was most upset by #1-3.  I planned to finish my degree, move to a "good place," find a job as a book publisher or translator, and live in a nice apartment in a decent neighborhood.  But apparently that was impossible.  Gay meant desolation and despair in a criminal demimonde.

See also: Sean and the World of Gay Leathermen


  1. The movie is a complete failure- it doesn't even work as a thriller

  2. I hated the film when I first saw it but looking at it now it works on two levels- it captures a world that has vanished that whole West Village gay scene which now has become a gentrified tourist hang out. The psycho slasher element works too and Friedkin keeps confusing the audience by changing the actors playing the killer. Pacino is ok but I do wish they had gone with Richard Gere who was the original lead- now that would have been a sexier movie.


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